The Pas Proper / Ordinary 28 – Pentecost + 21 – Trinity + 20
14 October 2018
Job 23:1-9, 16-17
God of the narrow way,
you call us to shed all that burdens
the lightness of life:
help us to surrender false wealth,
embrace our need of you
and live for your kingdom above all things;
through Jesus Christ, the richness of God. Amen.
I just love today’s gospel.
I love the way it asks the truly impossible questions, and delivers the truly faith based answers in return.
And the first part of today’s gospel we know – it’s the rich young man asking Jesus what he must do to be saved.
He asks, and we’ve been known to echo his words “. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”” (Mk 10:17b)
And this is the conundrum that Jesus addresses, today. “What must I do?
And so Jesus puts the naturally impossible answer before this equally impossible question. Every time this man answers in the affirmative, Jesus ups the stakes.
He’s told, we’re told to keep the law.
He’s told, we’re told to give everything not needed to maintain daily life to the poor.
At this point the rich man becomes discouraged because of the burden, the affluence, the quantity of his wealth. And this is where we often get discouraged right along with him, because we’re conditioned by society to see only those in religious callings as needing to follow a more ascetic lifestyle and to give generously to those who have less.
In reality, though, we are all called to do this. We’re all called to be generous to the poor, to hang onto only what is needed to navigate the day to day waters of life. The rest is what the church calls adiaphora – its just extra.
But that’s not where Jesus stops. There are others around who have watched this back and forth, and watched the expressions change on both Jesus face and that of the young man.
So Jesus declares ““How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”
24 The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”” (Mk 10:23-25)
And at such words, we all begin to feel the moral pinch.
Up to this point we were on the side of the disciples, looking at this well cared for youth come up to Jesus. His hair groomed, well shaved, and his clothes are clean and in excellent condition.
But it’s not the answers that he gives that bugs Jesus, but rather the initial question.
Do you remember what the rich young man asked? He asked “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Vs 17b
So what Jesus catches, what we, in our sense of ego cant seem to get past is the idea, the premise, the concept that there is something, a single task, a quest to be completed, a monster to be slain that will allow us to gain entry into the kingdom of heaven.
In a way this reminds me of some of the myths of Hercules. A son of the Greek god Zeus, who needed to complete a series of impossible tasks to be able to join the gods on Mount Olympus.
And as humans, we like the tales of heroes. Of a hero’s quest that gains God’s attention.
Maybe this is why superheroes have sprung up so much from the pages of comic books in recent decades?
Something, someone heroic in whom to believe. Some heroic pattern of behaviour that sets us truly beyond the normal to become better than the behaviours we see modeled by society all around us.
We want to be able to rise from the humdrum of our lives, called to do something heroic, or to have someone heroic to emulate in our lives.
We want to be able to earn our way to a glorious afterlife, to a grand wealth strewn heaven, that is set aside for the select who have ‘earned’ a place amongst the elite. But this isn’t Jesus way.
So, Jesus sets the bar high. He tells us, he tells the disciples, he tells the young man to keep to the letter of the law. He tells us all to give generously to the poor.
And, still, Jesus tells us that this won’t be enough.
So, really, if left to our own devices, the disciples are absolutely correct in throwing up their hands and with signs of frustration clearly showing in every line of their voices, their body language, they ask each other, not Jesus: So, “who then can be saved?” (Mk 10:26b)
And Peter adds, panic and frustration showing clearly in every line of his person, his voice says, “We have left everything to follow you!” (Mk 10:28)
What he’s trying not to say is that they have walked away from trades, businesses, and from families to follow where Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God has led, and they presumed, following societal models, that one day it would lead to the grand seat of the Sanhedrin.
That it would lead to a life of the dispensing of knowledge of the kingdom of God, and how one attains such a place in the afterlife.
Like those old cartoons of climbing to a high and unattainable peak to ask the sage, residing there, a single question, and that question, then giving all the advice for life.
But this isn’t what Jesus is saying.
At this point, we really don’t want to hear Jesus answer. We don’t want to know that we’ve done all that we can, yet it’s not enough. We don’t want to be aware that, as a part of God’s creation, as stewards of creation, we are not the rulers of creation.
“27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”” (Mk 10:27)
So, here is our heroes’ task.
Here is our herculean journey through impossible tasks. Here we slay our monster, and like the many headed hydra, whom Hercules slayed, and it’s a doozy.
Our monster to be slain is our ego.
It’s our pride, it’s our determination that we are the ones who will make our own path to heaven, carving it out every step at a time until God has no choice but to acknowledge our efforts and reward us, as we see fit. Like Hercules who, through his efforts, gained a seat in the pantheon of gods.
But we have it backwards.
There isn’t anything we can do to inherit eternal life, because eternal life is already ours because we believe that with God all things are possible.
So, then, our task is to trust in God. To follow Jesus teachings in all things, and to believe.
Our journey is to go where God calls us to go and to do what God needs us to do, not just here, but wherever it is that we find ourselves.
It’s a journey that has the ability to take us back to the Garden, when Adam and Eve ate the fruit. It takes us back to the idea that God wishes to walk amongst us, to be part of our lives, our decisions, our actions, not just on Sunday, not just sitting in a churches pews, but every day, and in every situation.
It’s a journey that encourages us to set aside the part of ourselves that reaches for awards and grandeur. To walk away from the spotlight and the trappings of wealth. Instead we are encouraged to love our neighbour, and to love God. We are encouraged to do for others as we wish to have them do for us because we believe that with God all things are possible
Its not an easy life, and the reward isn’t as bright and shiny as we see in the ancient hero’s tales. But after the celebrations, the people still had laundry to do, and groceries to acquire. They still had lawns to cut and garbage to take out. Our tales of heroes end with the acclamation that the hero has achieved his goals, they don’t say that the next day he or she went grocery shopping or took the garbage out.
But ours does. Our journey it is so much more than our imaginations can grasp. So much more exiting than we can ever imagine, and it will take the whole of our lives to fulfill.
But the answer is in the question asked at the beginning of today’s gospel. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mk 10:17b)
And the answer, really, is that there is nothing that I, that we, that the disciples can do.
Rather it is God working through me, through us, through the disciples, through all of creation.
It’s the Holy Spirit guiding us, guiding the disciples.
Its each one of us being open to going where and doing that is needed to grow the kingdom of God, knowledge of the love of Christ, and openness to the leading of the Holy Spirit.
In many ways it’s like playing the old board game Snakes and Ladders (recently renamed Chutes and Ladders). We think that things are going along swell, and then we have a setback. Or we think that we’re fumbling along, not really accomplishing anything, and suddenly we find ourselves elsewhere.
Its not really a board game we can strategize, because its often the achievement of the higher rolls that in the beginning will advance you across the board, but in the end may cause you great setbacks.
Peter may decry, “We have left everything to follow you!”
The words filled with angst and frustration if we’re in this Christianity thing to gain notoriety and fame. But if we’re here because we believe that Jesus is the Messiah, if we’re gathered together because we feel the pull of the love of God in our hearts and we wish to shar that with all people, then we are experiencing God’s Impossible things.
We are living out Jesus words that with God all things are possible, and this is a glorious place to be.